Blessing kicks off Therapeutic Riding Center’s 30th year

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, October 12, 2022

 

LAPLACE — The Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center opened in October 1993 with two horses and three riders. Entering its 30th year at 152 Shadowbrook Lane, LaPlace’s best kept secret now has seven therapy horses and more than 40 monthly riders.

Horseback riding has helped riders of all ages improve flexibility, balance, hip control and muscle strength. It’s also a means for individuals with autism, ADD, or mental and emotional disabilities to gain confidence, patience and self-esteem. The oldest rider over the years was 83 years old, and the youngest was not quite 1.

Many former riders returned to the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center on October 1 to kick off the 30th year of operation, commemorated with a blessing of the therapy horses courtesy of Father David Ducote.

Founder Anita Hefler was in her 20s when she started GNOTRC back in the 1990s. Nearly 30 years later, she is thankful for every blessing.

“We’ve been through a lot of adversity, but we’ve always made it through. Things are getting really tough in the world, and with this being a new group of horses, I thought we needed a blessing to help us along,” Hefler said. “This was my very first business that I’ve ever attempted. Most businesses don’t make it past the first five years, so starting our 30th year is very impressive. It’s not something I can do by myself. This is a group project, a community project, that involves a lot of people. I think all of these people need to be recognized and offered a blessing for all of the work that they do for us.”

While the mission has never changed at GNOTRC, there have been new faces and new additions throughout the years. The last of the original group of therapy horses passed away two years ago. It was only five years ago that GNOTRC expanded to year-round lessons after a contribution from United Way of St. Charles and Oscar Tolmas paved the way for a covered arena. The Children’s Charity fund from Valero provided fans to help horses and riders stay comfortable in the Louisiana summer heat.

The most recent challenge has been Hurricane Ida, which shut down operations for three months. As clean-up and rebuilding efforts continued, GNOTRC was able to resume classes in November 2021.

“It took a while to clear the debris. We still have a lot to do, but everything we needed was spared,” Hefler said. “Our horses didn’t even have a hair out of place or a scratch on them. The barn and the covered arena had some damage, but they are structurally sound and safe.”

Finances remain tight, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on GNOTRC’s usual fundraisers. Thankfully, the organization has been embraced by several church and volunteer groups willing to lend a helping hand.

Helfer said volunteers are always needed for classes at 9 and 10 a.m. Saturdays and 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Volunteers must be at least 13 years old and able to assist with leading horses and side-walking with riders.

“Some people come for the horses. Some people come for the kids. Some people come for exercise. There’s truly something for everybody,” Hefler said.

Derek Dennis rode horses at the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center from ages 8 to 12 after meeting Hefler at an animal rescue fundraiser. He now volunteers as a side-walker to help other riders.

“I have a rare chromosomal disorder, and I was not strong enough to walk long distances because I got tired easily. I had low muscle tone and wore SMO braces for my ankles,” Derek said. “After a few months of riding, I was stronger and had more energy. I was able to run and participate in special track and field events, and I didn’t need braces anymore. Now I’m strong and have lots of energy and can do anything I want to.”

Drew Currier is another former rider who has returned as a volunteer.

“It helped me out a great deal. One of the things we would do was go around water barrels and over PVC pipe, and that actually helped with my hand-eye coordination as well as my left-to-rights as a kid. It also helped me become a little more social,” Currier said. “I heard about the 30th year celebration, and I thought I could come volunteer. I just remember I used to have a fun time here as a kid, and I would like to give back to other people.”

For more information about the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center, visit www.gnotrc.com